The simple premise of Ethnic Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker! is that all the various characters and nationalities in the story are represented by authentic folk dances. This makes the story more literal and less highbrow. In her dream the girl heroine meets real representatives of various nations rather than their aestheticized and stereotyped versions, while her own family goes from bland bourgeois to distinctively German. With less fantasy than in most Nutcrackers, this approach still yields some magic. The rats perform a deliberate and strangely menacing tiptoe Georgian dance; the snow scene, filled by tall, gliding, divinely smiling Russian women in long fur-trimmed dresses, is beautiful and mysterious, as a snow scene ought to be. And German dances add interest to the party scene, which can be a bit of a snooze.
Except for some virtuoso moments provided by John Czichray’s Cossack doll and Lynn Petros-Winn’s Appalachian rag doll and Tajik dance, this is a homemade performance. Not that it requires too much indulgence from the viewer; it’s more that off the beaten dance track at the E. M. Pearson Theatre, featuring none of the usual dance suspects (except Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater company member Cade Holmseth as the Nutcracker), this Nutcracker feels like a break from the routine scene, a hometown show rather than ambitious art. What could be more appropriate to the time of year? The holidays are a homemade time, when we decorate our houses, make food, gifts, and ornaments, sing together, entertain, perhaps even dance. We look back to traditions that for the rest of the year we forget. Folk dance, for many Americans, is a completely lost tradition, and it’s good to see it kept alive by Ethnic Dance Theatre.
The interested can analyze folk dance. Rhythmic footwork is nearly universal across folk dance—feet and ground making the first drum. Some steps in folk dance show up in ballet as well, but with a change. The Cossack’s high jumps, the Georgian arm positions, the Tajik dancer’s fast turns—all are lightened in ballet, as if ballet were the folk dance of angels. Whether you focus on differences between forms or similarities across forms, one conclusion’s unavoidable: dance has deep and complex roots.
The Nutcracker! continues through Sunday at E. M. Pearson Theatre at Concordia University.